Christmas Dinner 2009!

*Disclaimer: Photos in this post are from the video camera – so excuse the quality!

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Christmas dinner this year was a small family affair this year – just me, Roberto, my mom and the furry babies. Again I was looking for simplicity. Having just prepared the Feast of the Fishes the night before, I wasn’t feeling like spending hours in the kitchen, again, no matter how much I love cooking! But I did want something special and delicious. So I let my beloved Tagine do the work for me. We added a quick starter and easy side dish and called it dinner!

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We started with a tortellini soup. This is something Roberto loves having every year around the winter holidays, because his Mamma used to make it every year this time of year. She uses beef broth in hers, but this year I used some more of my Thanksgiving turkey stock that was in the freezer. Basically I put 2 cups of stock and 1 cup of filtered water on the boil – and added a splash of white wine, some fresh thyme and salt and pepper. Once it came to a slow boil, I added a small package of tortellini. In about 3 minutes it was done. On top we grated some pecorino dolce, and called it the first course!

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For the second course, on my mom’s suggestion, we prepared my Nana’s famous stuffed artichokes. You make a stuffing of fresh bread crumbs, Italian parsley, freshly grated Parmesan cheese and enough olive oil to make it come together. Season with salt and pepper. You then stuff the first several rows of outer leaves with the stuffing. Then place stuffed artichokes in a pan with about an inch of water and some fresh squeezed lemon juice. Bring to a boil, lower the temp, put the lid on, and let steam for about 45 minutes. I hadn’t had these in years, and they were so good! I really should make them more often.

For the main course, I wanted something festive, that wasn’t turkey, since we had just roasted one a few weeks ago, for Thanksgiving. I saw some lamb at the store – which is a rarity in these parts, so I picked up a few packages of chops (and some for stew, later). I marinated the lamb chops in a healthy drizzle olive oil, splash of red wine, fresh thyme, and a splash of balsamic. I wanted to serve the chops with our favorite vegetable side – roasted carrots and potatoes! So I chopped 5 potatoes and 6 carrots in large chunks, drizzled them with olive oil and placed them on the bottom of the tagine. I arranged the chops on top, poured the rest of the marinade on top and put on the lid. I placed the tagine in a 350 F oven and cooked it for 1 ½ hours. I didn’t even need to add any liquid. The meat came out falling off the bone.

For dessert it was leftover Pandoro from our trifle the night before. We had a nice and relaxing time – a delicious and festive meal without too much time in the kitchen!

Shellfish Pasta cooked in Black Box Wine

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Here is the post I promised everyone on Monday. If you have not read or commented on Monday’s post, Concerned Consumer, or Mentally Ill? please take a moment to do so. I think this is a very important issue – that leads to other larger issues, that affects all of us. Anyway, you can read all my thoughts about it on that post, for today, onto something else!

Are you a food blogger? If so, have you signed up to be a Featured Publisher with Foodbuzz? If not, I ask you, why not? Foodbuzz is a great place to meet and interact with other food bloggers and non- food bloggers who just love food! Not only that, there are also a lot of other great benefits to being a Featured Publisher. One being that you get to try free stuff through their Tastemaker Outreach Program! Recently I was lucky enough to receive some wine through that program…Black Box Wine, that is.

Several years ago I read an article that discussed screw top wine bottles and how there was mostly just an aesthetic difference between those and bottles topped with corks. So I started giving some screw tops a chance, and found some pretty good ones. So when Foodbuzz announced they were going to be featuring Black Box Wines in their next Tastemaker Outreach Program, I decided to sign up. I wanted to see what wine in a box would be like. It got a lot of good reviews, and so it really piqued my interest. Black Box wines feature vintage-dated wines from the world’s premier growing regions, and delivers great taste at half the price of bottled wines of the same quality. Plus it comes from a portable, re-sealable, recyclable box. Cool.

So about 2 weeks ago I received my box of wine in the mail. I was not sure what variety I would be receiving, and I must admit, I was a little disappointed to see a Sauvingnon Blanc. We are not really white wine drinkers in this family, but keeping an open mind I put it in the fridge to chill, waiting to get that urge for white wine.

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Roberto’s brother, Davide is visiting from Italy for the first time, so we really wanted him to enjoy some fresh FL seafood as soon as he got here! So the first full day he was here, we went to our local fish market and I got local shrimp, as well as mussels and scallops. When we got them home, I decided to cook them with garlic and wine, and serve it all over some nice pasta.

As part of my gluten free journey I have looked into alternatives to straight semolina (durum wheat) pasta. One of my favorites is De Boles pasta that is made with part semolina and part Jerusalem artichoke flour. The Jerusalem artichoke flour is high in inulin, a pre-biotic, that is a digestive aid. Inulin also lowers blood pressure and cholesterol. Artichoke flour gives the pasta a lower glycemic index making it easier for those with gluten sensitivity (not for those with a gluten allergy or celiacs because there is still some semolina flour) to process.  However, De Boles does carry a gluten free line, yet I have not seen it at my grocery store. For me, the difference between the Jerusalem artichoke flour pasta and “regular pasta” is non- existent. It cooks up nice and al dente, every time, just the way I like it.

The other gluten free pasta I have come to love is Mrs. Leepers 100% organic corn spaghetti – not a huge fan of their slow to load website, however.  My husband really loves this pasta, and he would be a good judge of all things pasta. I also like it. It does not get sticky or mushy and tastes…just like pasta!You would never know it was made from corn flour.

Although I am beginning to lean in the direction that I originally thought about my health, which is that I am just not very tolerant of grains in general, I don’t seem to be bothered by corn or artichoke. Therefore,  I may try to increase the number of times we eat these pastas. Roberto LOVES pasta, and I really only cook it once a month, at the most, when I don’t mid falling asleep at 8 PM. I highly recommend these products. They are really good.

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So back to the seafood. We brought it home and as I was putting it in the fridge, a light bulb went off – I could cook it in the Black Box wine and then drink some to go with it! So I did a simple sautee of garlic and onions in olive oil. I added the seafood and then about a cup of the wine, juice from one lemon (and the lemon peels)  and some fresh herbs from the garden – basil, chives and lemon balm.

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I let it all steam away for about 3-5 minutes, and then served it over the De Boles pasta with a drizzle of lemon olive oil on top, for fun. I also served it with a loaf of Artisan Bread in 5′s Olive Oil Bread , to which I subbed one half cup of water for plain kefir and added about 1 TBS of honey (instead of sugar). Of course I had to have a chunk too, to dip into the delicious sauce from the seafood boil! It was great.

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This meal was a huge hit and we all enjoyed the glass of Black Box Sauvignon Blanc that we drank with it! I can’t say I would chose to buy that variety again, however, I think I would try some of their reds! Thanks so much Foodbuzz for giving me the chance to sample this!

Leftover Summer Fresh Orzo Salad

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This is a dish I made a while back, that I have yet to blog about. It is so very simple, but the taste was just so bright and summery, I thought this would be the perfect time to share it – in the height of summer. These are my favorite kinds of salads – “leftovers salads”, where you pull a bunch of stuff out of the pantry and out of the garden, and make a simple masterpiece. I do a lot of these “leftovers salads” and they are always the best because they are always so unique.

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I had half a box of orzo pasta that I cooked up and then cooled. I drizzled it with some sun dried tomato dipping olive oil that I received via FromTheFarm.com from Sierra Olive Oil Company. Then I chopped some heirloom tomatoes and garden tomatoes and some fresh mozzarella.

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I stirred that in with fresh chopped herbs from our garden: basil, oregano, scallions and lemon balm. A little salt and pepper for the top, and a final drizzle of organic Meyer lemon vinegar.

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I brought this to a potluck dinner and there was nary a piece of orzo left! Now that I am writing about it, I am craving it again! :)

Cooking with Family and Friends

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I really love playing in the kitchen and sometimes, I like to play in the kitchen with others. The kitchen in our condo is kind of small and lacking counter space, but I have still found it possible to squeeze people in the kitchen with me, so we can have a good time cooking up something fun! Everyone I know, knows about my love of cooking and I like to have the opportunity to share this passion of mine with them. Cooking together is a whole different experience from cooking FOR someone, although that is great too! I think the key to cooking together with people in small kitchens is to use as few bowls and pans as possible, and to keep it simple so people can enjoy themselves no matter what their level of cooking is.

A few weekends ago we had both my mom and my cousin Michelle visiting. They both came up on a Friday, and since Fridays are always “Movie Night” in this household, I wanted to pick something that would be quick and easy, but also fun and delicious that we could eat while watching movies. Also since Michelle is the only other person besides Roberto that I know who could literally eat pizza every day I decided to do a “make your own pizza” night!

Before anyone arrived I made sure to make a batch of the Olive Oil Dough from Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day (seriously, if you don’t already have this book, stop reading this post and get it!). I also checked to make sure we had my secret pizza sauce ingredient – tomato paste. We use it straight from the can as pizza sauce – it is nice and thick, so no soggy crust!

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Everyone had a great time rolling out their individual pizzas. I wish we had been better about taking photos of actual people, but we were too busy having fun! We had a variety of toppings to choose from, which are things I just had in the fridge: fresh mozzarella, roasted red peppers, olives, Applegate Farms pepperoni (no nitrates, antibiotics, etc), peperoncini and fresh heirloom tomato slices, and of course extra virgin olive oil to drizzle on top. We had a great time making pizzas and a week later I was still finding flour in random places :)

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Then last week, our friends Chris and Erin from The Olive Notes came over for a pasta party. When they lived in Italy they always had several jars of Barilla’s Pesto Genovese in their Italian pantry, however were sad to discover that they could not find it back in the states. So when we were in Italy in March ( and I promise there are more travel posts to come) we brought them back a few bottles. To thank us, they suggested we have a pasta making party. Since Roberto and I are moving at the end of the month, we decided to have them over so that we could have one last get together at the condo.

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We decided to make a filled pasta, and went with ravioli. We used this recipe for the dough from Recipe Zaar and decided to fill our fresh pasta with a mixture of wild mushrooms that Erin got at the Farmers Market, goat cheese and fresh chives from my garden. We also seasoned it with Sicilian Sea Salt with Blood Orange Zest that we got from D’Italia .

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First we made the filling in the food processor – basically threw everything in there and let her rip. Then we cleaned it out and made the dough in the processor at well. Then Erin and I got to rolling out the dough, while the boys made various bruschetta.

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Once the dough was rolled it had to sit for 15 minutes and then we filled and cut out the ravioli.

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At this point we had another hour to wait until we could cook it, so we ate our bruschetta, sipped some wine and made a delicious salad made from wild arugula and heirloom tomatoes topped with a homemade balsamic-mustard-honey dressing Erin made – it was delicious.

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We cooked up the ravioli and then enjoyed an evening reminiscing about our respective Italian travels.

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We had such a good time cooking with people in our home that I plan to make this a regular thing, especially now that we are going to have a much bigger kitchen in the new place! So look forward to more of these posts in the future! :)

Boxed Tomatoes: Spaghetti and Meatballs….Spaghetti Squash, a Tomato Sauce Extravaganza!

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Here is another post about a featured pantry item. This was not planned it just so happens that the last few times I cooked, I got so inspired by a key ingredient and just went off on different tangents with it. Which to me, is my favorite way to cook – when I am inspired and excited about ingredients – when they make me hungry and I can’t wait for the dish to be done. This post is going to feature different uses for tomato sauces, which I made from boxed tomatoes.

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Now I am putting a disclaimer out there that this isn’t my mom’s, my grandmother’s or probably anyone’s grandmother’s recipe for tomato sauce, or meatballs. Even though I grew up both Spaghetti Squash and Spaghetti and Meatballs, I don’t like making anything EXACTLY the same way every time. Since I like to use my leftovers, when I make a sauce or any kind of dish, really, I always do a tour through the fridge to see what needs to be used yesterday, and find a way to incorporate it. Usually this means we get extra veggies in whatever dish I am making, which is never a bad thing. But it also ensures that my dishes are always slightly different every time, making it more interesting.

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Here is the story of this Tomato Sauce Extravaganza! I bought a spaghetti squash with all intentions to make baked spaghetti squash with fresh mozzarella for dinner. Then on Twitter, I was chatting with some of my buds and Elle, from Elle’s New England Kitchen was making Spaghetti and Meatballs, and Peter, from Kalofagas was talking about garlic bread. So naturally, I started craving both things. So I decided to act on those cravings and just make everything all at once. So I made the tomato sauce so that it could go in my baked spaghetti squash dish and also be used the next day for the meatballs. I must admit both dishes were fabulous!

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Then I made garlic bread topped with parm and a little leftover blue cheese. It was the perfect accompaniment.
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O Foods Contest Winner! and another O Foods Recipe: PierOgi Pasta

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I have the very distinct privilege of announcing one of the O Foods Recipe Winners, from those participants who were featured on Bleeding Espresso. We had a really hard time deciding as there were so many great recipes. So Michelle and I decided to share our top three and go from there – but we both had the same exact top three:
Olive Ascolane from The Flavors of Abruzzo , Octopus in a Stew from Spanish Recipes and Chard stuffed with Riso Arborio and Portobello Mushrooms from Feed Yourself.
Uh oh! How to chose now???

So I decided to enlist the help of a real expert – our new pup Peperoncino!

I saw on Wendy’s blog that she recently had a contest and her puppy, Marco chose the winner, which I thought was brilliant. So I put the recipes on a slip of paper, put them on the floor and the first one he sniffed was the winner! Well it looks like Peperoncino wants some Octopus! So congratulations to Nuria, from Spanish Recipes who has won a $50 gift certificate from Amazon, with her Octopus Stew! :)

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Thanks again to all of you who participated and be sure to stop over to Nuria’s blog for some more great Spanish Recipes!

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PierOgi Pasta

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Here is a great fall pasta dish, that is so satisfying and chock full of veggie goodness. My best friend Jen, who lives in MA is Polish and all the women in her family get together the Saturday after Thanksgiving and make Pierogi for Christmas. I have always thought this is a wonderful family tradition. I love Pierogi, but have never made it myself. A long time ago, when I still lived in MA I was at Jen’s house…she was making a dish for dinner that she called Lazy Man’s Pierogi, which was from what I can remember: sauteed cabbage, onions and mushrooms tossed with sauerkraut, cottage cheese and egg noodles. It looked and smelled great and I always put it on the back burner for a “someday recipe”. Well that day came. But I decided to change it up a little.

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I sauteed the cabbage, onion and mushrooms like she did. Then I added sauerkraut, some leftover tomato sauce and some Greek Yogurt. I cooked it all down until it was soft but still crunchy and then added whole wheat tortellini to it and continued to cook it for another 10 minutes so the tortellini had time to steam in the juices. I seasoned everything with salt, pepper, cumin and paprika. It turned out great and made enough to feed a small army! We loved it and it is something I will certainly be making down the road again! Plus I get to see Jen a week from today, when we head up north for our yearly trip to New England! YAY! :)

Stormy Weather and Comfort Food: Keeping away Fay with “Italian Style Mac n’ Cheese”

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Nothing says comfort food like a Tropical Storm!

We are still waiting for the storm to hit. Latest news reports say that it will not have enough time out in open water to turn into a hurricane once it hits land again, which is good, but it will hit land again as a tropical storm, right here in our lovely town of Saint Augustine. We are right on the coast here in Northern FL. Less than a five minute walk from the water. We have already seen rising waters and some low lying areas (well everything is low lying around here) have flooded and the storm isn’t even here YET. We should be expecting it tonight or more likely tomorrow. Everything is closing up and our county has declared a state of emergency. The National Guard is already here, thankfully, and we live on the second floor, so we are staying put. We are ready with supplies and we have just moved everything off the porch. The wind is starting to pick up, but nothing severe yet.

The summer has been pretty rainy here especially since the end of July, which is like monsoon season in Florida – it rains everyday, and even if it doesn’t rain, a large part of the day is gray and the sky rumbles.

So much for The Sunshine State.

My appetite begins to get confused – from inside, looking out it seems like a fall day, but as soon as you step outside it is sweltering hot and sticky humid. Even so, during the first week or so of this, my brain temporarily goes from cooling summer foods, right back to the land of comfort food. Which in this case, was Pasta al Forno – or oven backed pasta, much like a Mac n’ cheese of sorts. This dish was creamy and satisfying – chock full of flavors and textures. Roberto took one bite and he was transported back to childhood memories of tortellini with peas in bechamel. This may be a new family favorite. It certainly does hearken to rainy days under a blanket with a good book and glass of rich red wine under a Tuscan sky… Or perhaps just a storm safe closet! ;)

But maybe this will even stave off Fay! :)
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Recipe: Curried Penne Pasta

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We have been getting ourselves re-familiarized with pasta lately. Due to rising food costs, I have been trying my best to stretch things, like our veggies and meat and following in the footsteps of my Grandparents, pasta often comes to mind. There are a lot of great pasta types out there now that are more healthy than your garden variety enriched “white” pastas. Roberto, like a good Italian, has always been big on pasta meals. Before he met me, he used to eat pasta every single day of his life.
For myself, I have always joked that I am not a good Italian, because I have never really been a big pasta eater, even less so as I got older, because it really likes to stick to certain parts of my body that I really wish it would not. But now, with all these varieties to choose from, I have found healthier versions.

Not all pasta is created equal…

One of my favorites is De Boles. Not only is De Boles organic and all natural, but it offers gluten free and whole grain varieties as well as my favorite, the ones made with half Jerusalem artichoke flour and half semolina flour. This means it has a lower glycemic index. Jerusalem artichokes also contain inulin which is a pre-biotic (not pro-biotic – although those are good too) that stimulates the growth of beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract that in turn aids digestion and lowers blood pressure and cholesterol. Texture wise, it is just like regular pasta. You are unable to tell the difference. Take it from the Italian and the Italian American.

When using regular pasta, my favorite brand was always Barilla. It always cooks perfectly and is the preferred brand of most Italian households. The company was founded in Parma, Italy and has for 130 years been family owned and operated. Also in 2007 they were one of the six out of 5,000 globally recognized companies evaluated as “most ethical”. So you can also feel good about eating this pasta. Another reason to feel good about eating Barilla is that they too have some out with new healthier varieties with their Barilla Plus – multigrain line of products. Barilla is also way cheaper than De Boles, so it is often what we have in our pantry.

I wanted to try some different pastas that are not traditionally Italian in taste, to spice things up a bit. So recently I made a curried penne. I had finally found an Indian market near where my mom lives and I picked up some great spice mixtures and had a hankering to try them out. I am a huge yogurt lover, and yogurt (which contains PRO-biotics) is found prominently in Indian cuisine, so an idea for this spicy pasta started coming together. However, I doubt you would ever find this on a menu in any Indian restaurant! It is a Leftover Queen classic ;)
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